Developing inexperienced managers to create a team that takes accountability seriously
Case Study – Tim Goodson, MD
When Tim Goodson joined DVS as Finance Director just over 4 years ago, he couldn’t have predicted what would be in store. But just 9 months later he found himself buying out the company with his business partner, and since then they’ve doubled the turnover to £36m and increased staff numbers accordingly.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. In his own words they weren’t positioned well for such growth, they “didn’t really have a formal leadership team, only good managers with specific area responsibilities.” And they needed to develop more experience, so the onus was often placed on Tim and his fellow director, Gavin.
Tim recognised something had to be done before they became overwhelmed and to enable the business to achieve its ambitious targets for growth. He needed assistance to put the right structure in place and he needed someone with the experience to help get there quickly.
Faced with a fast-growing business filled with a number of managers with relatively little experience in leading a business, Tim and his partner were finding that lots of decisions were ending up with them. The culture of being open and approachable was nice to a point, but it was overwhelming, and people weren’t thinking for themselves as much as they could have done. “I couldn’t have taken even a short amount of time out of the business without causing a problem.”
They recognised that they needed to put a proper leadership team in place. One that took accountability, understood their responsibilities, and fed back on a need to know basis. But they also knew that in order to do this they needed more structure in place and they needed to empower these managers, to give them the confidence to pick up the baton and run with it.
“We wanted to define the business a bit more in terms of mission and vision and goals. We had values but people didn’t necessarily work to them. It was quite clear that the managers’ roles weren’t defined, we needed to bring some structure to the business.”
“We needed someone who understands us as a business…someone who has a level of experience rather than someone who has read a book. I wanted someone who has lived and breathed it.
“That’s why we employed Spring Leadership.”
What Did We Do?
We put together a package that involved an organisation-wide feedback survey to learn about the priorities in the business and get people’s views. Then we created a structured programme lasting around 12 months. We designed it to achieve the original goals we developed with Tim & Gavin but also to flex in response to changes on the ground and feedback we received along the way. The programme involved team sessions, workshops, and individual sessions designed to concentrate on the development needed to best achieve the outcomes.
It also involved separate sessions with Tim and Gavin who opted to attend together as they felt that worked well for them. The programme was due to finish in March / April time at which point we were planning to do another survey with the staff, to measure the impact and develop a plan for their next steps, but due to Coronavirus, we changed course slightly. We’re now continuing to work with the team so they’re able to meet the demands of these uncertain times.
Tim said: “There was one memorable meeting in particular. We’d just started our senior management meetings and felt that the team were not doing what we thought we’d asked them to do. It became a bit of a battle about who had communicated what to whom. Steve and Corine stepped in and did a great session helping everyone to see the relevance and importance of good communication both ways, which was really useful.
“I think that was the first moment where it became clear to the team that they needed to take more ownership of things. If they needed clarity from us, they should ask, not think if it was unclear then it was the person communicating the message; so as well as us ensuring we made things clear, the buck stopped with them to make sure they understood. Having outsiders there to help take the heat out of the situation worked brilliantly and actually, having that debate and coming through it positively created an honesty. The dynamic is definitely better.
“That’s a great example of the way they work with what’s going on in the business in real-time to help get their teachings across.”
And the Results?
When Tim initially told us that “nothing stands out as a gamechanger” from the programme of work we did, we were a little disappointed, but then he qualified it with, “because there were so many things. Some bits were useful to some people and some to others. It’s the holistic thing that created results.
“It’s a world apart from last year. I’m not getting bombarded, neither is Gavin. There’s more information being produced; better information being produced. We have weekly catch-ups, the guys feed us weekly packs, we have one to ones when we need them. And my team knows I’m there, I trust them to raise the right things. They understand where the authorisation levels are and they take on board decisions.
“Part of it has come from the coaching Spring has done with them, and part of it is the confidence they gave us to push back, to say, “Let me know how it went.” They’re a good team, who are making decisions to move the business forward every single day.
“And morale has definitely improved. People who come to visit often say to me that everyone seems happy and it seems like a nice place to work.
“The recent uncertainty has of course caused us pain, but the work with Spring has put us in a better position to manage it. The team had gained experience. Yes, the goal in the short term had changed but they knew what needed to be done and they understood the communication part of it that was required to get their teams onside. Overall, I think it’s made them a bit more robust really – they’ve realised what they need to do to support themselves and each other.”
So what does the future look like?
“We are continuing to work with Spring in some capacity. Gavin and I meet with Steve every 2-3 weeks for a sort of mentoring session and that’s something we will look to continue.
“We’ll also continue the team coaching in some capacity or another. I’m not quite sure what it will look like but am keen to make sure we are getting what we need to from it. I’m confident Spring will be asking those questions too. They are completely focused on our goals and what we’re trying to achieve, which is great. I trust that they’ll be questioning what’s being done too.”
What Tim Said
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t want them working for my competitors. From the moment I met Steve and Corine it felt right. They set out what they were intending to do and why and how they would do it. That gave me enough structure so I knew what to expect, and enough flexibility that I felt comfortable that if it wasn’t working I wouldn’t be tied into months and months of steep costs.
“I feel like we formed a good bond quite quickly and they understand how we work. I know that if I talk about something I’m doing in the business and they feel there’s a better way of achieving it they’ll tell me. I can rely on that. I don’t have to ask them every time, if it needs challenging, they’ll challenge it.
“They flexed to requirements rather than having a structured plan that we had to rigidly stick to. And they responded to feedback well. When we requested that changes were made, or we requested more notice about upcoming session content then it happened.
“I would describe them as a healthy mixture of academic summary and experience of the world. They say it as it is and know how to cut to the chase. It certainly feels like you have allies, people supporting you, people who are genuinely passionate about your business, and are on your side. But in the right way to get you to that next step.”
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